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 Post subject: The Anatomy of a Story
PostPosted: Mon Mar 03, 2008 11:41 am 
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In the thread on inter-party-combat (viewtopic.php?f=29&t=66), I have talked about how my group doesn’t allow player to keep even the most private details about their characters secret from all fellow players, and how we create our characters communally, with suggestions and other input from everybody else. To this, Crow Caller reacted in the following way:

Crow Caller wrote:
That's like watching a Murder Mystery and knowing who the bad guy is from the start.


I disagree completely with the notion I suspect behind Crow Caller's statement, and I would therefore like to talk about what makes a story interesting, but not in the original thread, where this would be off-topic, but here, in this thread.

First of all, I think that Crow Caller’s analogy is flawed. While most adventures correspond in some way to murder mysteries inasfar that there is an element of exploration (i. e. “Who and what is behind the recent events?”), this mystery is usually not provided by the fellow players, but by the referee. Players knowing the details of other player characters does therefore not detract from this mystery factor.
Games where the characters do not form a group with shared interests but do work against each other are of course the exception to this.

It is probably save to say that adventure stories of all kinds live from suspense. The protagonist faces opposition, and his struggles to overcome this opposition create the suspense. In the course of his struggles, two questions become relevant:

1) Will the protagonist overcome the opposition?
2) What does happen to the protagonist in his struggles against the opposition?

I would like to argue that the second question is demonstrably the more important one by far. Stories can and do work without answering or even addressing the first question (think of open endings), but they can not fail to address the second one. To be gripped by a story, we do not have to know if the protagonist will succeed in his struggles, but we absolutely do have to see him struggle.

I think that this is due to two reasons:

1) On a more basic level, the overcoming of opposition is the “meat” of stories. It is gripping to see a protagonist face insurmountable odds, take them on with resourcefulness and go on to face some other opposition. This kind of crisis is exciting and gripping.

2) On a more advanced level, opposition and crisis reveals character, both in real life and in fiction. How somebody meets a dilemma and deals with it is highly interesting. By watching a fictional character in a tight spot, we learn a lot about him, and, on a more abstract level, about ourselves and humanity in general. And this is what stories are all about since the most ancient of days – exploring humanity.

One need only look at such famous heroes of fantasy like Conan the Cimmerian or Elric of Melniboné. Every reader who knows the least bit about them knows that they won’t die during their travails, and that they will overcome the current opposition and succeed at least in part. Does this make the stories any less interesting? Obviously not. Readers are not gripped by the question wether Conan/Elric will succeed, and even less so if he will survive; what is interesting about these stories is how the protagonist will fare. Suspense does clearly not come from uncertainty of success.

What does this mean for role-playing?

In the most extreme, it means that it is definitely possible to have very intense and gripping stories where it is absolutely clear that the player character will not die.
This might seem strange, but I have done it and know that it is possible; I have even experienced it to make for incredibly intense gaming. Think of having Elric as your character, and having decided beforehand that your character will bring about the end of the world. Playing out his earlier exploits will be very intense, especially in view of the knowledge that all of this is for nothing because of the impending doom. The fact that this character can’t die doesn’t detract the least bit from the enjoyment.

But I won’t advocate something that extreme. Instead, I’d like to point out the advantages of players being fully in the know about each others’ characters, provided you have got mature players who don’t begrudge each other time in the limelight. If this provision is met, players can help each other create memorable scenes for each others’ characters - they can have their characters push another character’s buttons, giving this player the opportunity to bring his character’s core concerns (his secrets) to the fore. And this is what we all want from stories – protagonists addressing the issues they are passionate about and revealing themselves in the process.

This (players pushing another player character’s buttons) could conceivably also happen by chance, without the player knowing about it, but it would clearly be much rarer. With full knowledge of another player character, the player can do this intentionally, instead of stumbling around blindly in the darkness.

Do you remember Tolkien’s “The Hobbit or There And Back Again”?. The riddle contest between Bilbo and Gollum? Think of the moment when Bilbo is one riddle short of being devoured by Gollum, and when he puts his hand down his trouser pocket and feels the Ring he found some time ago. Think of how he says to himself “what have I got here?” and how Gollum thinks this to be a riddle, how he subsequently suspects Bilbo of having his Precious and how hell breaks loose because of this. Now imagine Bilbo and Gollum to be player characters. If the player of Bilbo doesn’t know of the Ring’s significance to Gollum, this interesting and memorable scene would never happen. Now, if both players are aware of their respective characters drives and secrets, the player of Bilbo could easily bring the Ring into play in the way Tolkien did (or some other). This makes for a much better scene than both players being in the dark.

I do therefore advocate that, if communal story creation is your agenda, full knowledge of other players’ characters is infinitely preferable to ignorance.

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 Post subject: Re: The Anatomy of a Story
PostPosted: Tue Mar 04, 2008 8:39 am 
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Grettir wrote:
Do you remember Tolkien’s “The Hobbit or There And Back Again”?. The riddle contest between Bilbo and Gollum? Think of the moment when Bilbo is one riddle short of being devoured by Gollum, and when he puts his hand down his trouser pocket and feels the Ring he found some time ago. Think of how he says to himself “what have I got here?” and how Gollum thinks this to be a riddle, how he subsequently suspects Bilbo of having his Precious and how hell breaks loose because of this. Now imagine Bilbo and Gollum to be player characters. If the player of Bilbo doesn’t know of the Ring’s significance to Gollum, this interesting and memorable scene would never happen. Now, if both players are aware of their respective characters drives and secrets, the player of Bilbo could easily bring the Ring into play in the way Tolkien did (or some other). This makes for a much better scene than both players being in the dark.


What is the difference in play between the situation where Bilbo PC and Gollum PC know everything about each other and so Bilbo PC decides to hinge the scene on the Ring -- and the situation where Bilbo PC and Gollum PC know only what they've discovered in-game about each other and the referee slips Bilbo PC a note saying "Suggestion: Base your final riddle around the Ring you found."?

Grettir wrote:
I do therefore advocate that, if communal story creation is your agenda, full knowledge of other players’ characters is infinitely preferable to ignorance.


In TRoS I don't really see a reason for the players to know everything there is to know about each other. It's the SAs that drive the plot so once the players know each others SAs -- and there is advocacy for the SAs of the PCs to be written communally so that everyone knows what plot arcs will be in the game -- they should be helping to create scenes that bounce off each other's SAs. What advantage do you see in knowing everything that is on the character sheet as opposed to just knowing the SAs?

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 Post subject: Re: The Anatomy of a Story
PostPosted: Tue Mar 04, 2008 11:40 am 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
What is the difference in play between the situation where Bilbo PC and Gollum PC know everything about each other and so Bilbo PC decides to hinge the scene on the Ring -- and the situation where Bilbo PC and Gollum PC know only what they've discovered in-game about each other and the referee slips Bilbo PC a note saying "Suggestion: Base your final riddle around the Ring you found."?


Player authorship. If the referee is cluing the players, he is nudging them and the story in the direction of his choice. If the players do this on their own, they have effectively more control over what is going to happen next.

Ian.Plumb wrote:
What advantage do you see in knowing everything that is on the character sheet as opposed to just knowing the SAs?


Once again, the answer is player authorship and increased control of the story by the players. Knowing each others’ SAs and having some kind of input about their choice is an important step into this direction, but characters usually have other relevant things in their backstory than those covered by SAs.

An example from a non-TRoS, modern-day game I ran recently, in a kind of bleak film-noir setting:

The player John created a for his character (a defrocked doctor now patching up the local underworld) a kind of important mentor-figure (famous university professor) and this mentor’s daughter Barbara, a pretty, well-off college-girl and very active in the party scene of the rich and beautiful. This young woman didn’t mean much to John’s character, she was just a footnote to add colour.

Another player, Ralph, pounced on this little fact. He had envisioned his character to be a young scoundrel from a very wealthy and powerful family, but cut off by his family for being the black sheep, a ne’er-do-well. To finance his opulent lifestyle and endless parties, Ralph had decided that his very charming and handsome character was trying to get his many women to cover his expenses, and that he, a drug user himself, was also pushing some dope to his jetset friends.
Ralph now decided that his character was acquainted with Barbara from John’s character’s backstory, and moreover, that he slept with Barbara and tried to get her on cocaine, to win her as a customer. John was ok with this, as was the rest of us.

The relation between Barbara and Ralpph’s character soon became central to the game, and John’s character was drawn into this early on. By taking some minor private detail from another player character’s backstory, Ralph has together with John moved the campaign in in incredibly exxciting directions, directions I would not have dreamed about in the beginning. This was player authorship at its best, made possible only by one player knowing the details of another player’s character.

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 Post subject: Re: The Anatomy of a Story
PostPosted: Tue Mar 04, 2008 4:16 pm 
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Grettir wrote:
Do you remember Tolkien’s “The Hobbit or There And Back Again”?. The riddle contest between Bilbo and Gollum? Think of the moment when Bilbo is one riddle short of being devoured by Gollum, and when he puts his hand down his trouser pocket and feels the Ring he found some time ago. Think of how he says to himself “what have I got here?” and how Gollum thinks this to be a riddle, how he subsequently suspects Bilbo of having his Precious and how hell breaks loose because of this. Now imagine Bilbo and Gollum to be player characters. If the player of Bilbo doesn’t know of the Ring’s significance to Gollum, this interesting and memorable scene would never happen. Now, if both players are aware of their respective characters drives and secrets, the player of Bilbo could easily bring the Ring into play in the way Tolkien did (or some other). This makes for a much better scene than both players being in the dark.

Well, that example is rather extreme. What kind of PCs meets another PC once for a key plotline event, to be parted from him forever and ever thereafter? Just imagine if they would meet with at least some regularity and now picture the satisfied look on the first PC's face when he finally figures it out: "It's the ring he wants! It's the damn ring!"

Besides, Gollum is definitely an NPC in the gaming terms. He's got a lot of downtime and pops up wherever he's needed for the plot.

Grettir wrote:
The relation between Barbara and Ralpph’s character soon became central to the game, and John’s character was drawn into this early on. By taking some minor private detail from another player character’s backstory, Ralph has together with John moved the campaign in in incredibly exxciting directions, directions I would not have dreamed about in the beginning. This was player authorship at its best, made possible only by one player knowing the details of another player’s character.

The bold part.

Variant one:
a) Referee knows this type of behaviour pattern from the characters background and includes the NPC in it.

We get:
a) The same result when a player would have come up with it.
b) A more solid illusion of the gaming environment for the player as he's not doing something "for the sake of keeping the party together".

Variant two:
a) Referee knows this type of behaviour pattern from the characters background and asks for the character's plans for tonight.
b) Referee feeds the NPC in front of the character. (I do it constantly, feeding NPCs from one PC's background to another PC in addition to my own NPCs.)

We get:
a) The same result as in variant one.
b) A powerful roleplaying scene including seduction, greed and treachery. This also creates a more powerful emotion, as we're not dealing with some minor detail anymore, but character's decisions and direct response from the player have led to the situation.

This all of course shows my priorites. The story is good, but it's all the more greater if there's immersion, and that is all the more greater if the illusion of reality is involved.

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 Post subject: Re: The Anatomy of a Story
PostPosted: Tue Mar 04, 2008 6:19 pm 
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Higgins, addressing your variants of the situation created by John and Ralph:

Of course you can attain the same result John and Ralph did. But the difference is that John and Ralph did so on their own, without interference by the referee.

I feel that the player characters are the protagonists of stories, and that they are created the way they were because of the players wanting to experience a certain kind of story or address certain issues of their choice. That’s what SAs are there for in TRoS, and that’s also why somebody chooses to play a magic-user, or a fighter, or a thief. These choices have a great impact on what the story experience for the character is going to be like and ultimatively tell something about what stories the player would like to experience and tell.

For John and Ralph this means that in linking their characters in a certain way, they determined the direction the story would take. Of course I could have taken it in the same direction, but: Why impose my vision on the story when this is not necessary, when the players can do this on their own, without my nudging along, and in the clearest of terms?

I guess at your answer:

higgins wrote:
b) A more solid illusion of the gaming environment for the player as he's not doing something "for the sake of keeping the party together".

(…)

This all of course shows my priorites. The story is good, but it's all the more greater if there's immersion, and that is all the more greater if the illusion of reality is involved.


(Bold emphasis is mine)

This is a question of priorities. While immersing ourselves in our characters is something my group likes, our priority is the telling of stories. We try to maintain the illusion, but when the illusion get’s in the way of the telling of a good story, the illusion has to go. Exploring the world and the characters themselves is not our priority, telling of stories with a human interest is.

This may sound more extreme than it is. While the characters are only story-telling tools to us, it does not mean that we ride roughshod over them. They are created as tools to address certain issues, but once they have attained threedimensionality, we do not simply use them as pawns to create random conflict. We do on the other hand not hesitate to use out-of-character knowledge to create interesting situations, as long as the required behaviour is within the scope of the character. Bilbo, Gollum and the Ring are an example for this: The Bilbo-player uses his player knowledge to have his character create an interesting situation, but with behaviour that is not unlikely for his character. If this is what one is after (and we are), the more knowledge the players have, the better the situations they can create.

For me, players are the prime authors of the stories, and referees are only here to lend structure to their ideas, not to impose his own. From this follows that whenever it is possible to create situations without the referee interfering, this is preferable to the referee having his hand in plotting stories.

A last word on the Bilbo-Gollum example:

higgins wrote:
Well, that example is rather extreme.


While this is not my prime concern and was only used as a clear illustration, I’d say that it is in fact not extreme at all. Coincidences are a mainstay of fiction of all kinds. But if coincidences are such an important tool of story creation, why keep it all to the referee and deprive the players of it, who should be the primary authors.

higgins wrote:
Besides, Gollum is definitely an NPC in the gaming terms. He's got a lot of downtime and pops up wherever he's needed for the plot.


The way the story is told, Gollum is on the sidelines and Bilbo the protagonist, yes. But this is a conscious choice by the author, not a necessity. It would be easy to tell Gollum’s story, maybe beginning with him loosing the Ring, and have him be the protagonist (PC), and Bilbo just an NPC. But again, this is not really the topic of the thread. If you think that it is necessary to discuss this example in detail to dissect the workings of stories, we can, but otherwise let’s please stay on topic.

higgins wrote:
Just imagine if they would meet with at least some regularity and now picture the satisfied look on the first PC's face when he finally figures it out: "It's the ring he wants! It's the damn ring!"


Could you please clarify: Do you really mean PC, or do you mean the player? Because the look on the face of the PC would be the same wether the player had this knowledge before or not.

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 Post subject: Re: The Anatomy of a Story
PostPosted: Tue Mar 04, 2008 7:33 pm 
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Grettir wrote:
Player authorship. If the referee is cluing the players, he is nudging them and the story in the direction of his choice. If the players do this on their own, they have effectively more control over what is going to happen next.


If that's the priority of play over exploration then go for it. If on the other hand the players get a kick out of learning about each other's carefully crafted characters in game then I'd stick with just the SA knowledge. I have players who hesitate to show the referee their character sheet; they'd never agree to showing the other players. :)

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 Post subject: Re: The Anatomy of a Story
PostPosted: Tue Mar 04, 2008 8:29 pm 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
If that's the priority of play over exploration then go for it.


It is, and I (we) do.

And while I do not argue that it is any "better" way of gaming, I still would like to point this method out - for some, it most certainly is a more satisfying role-playing experience. Until one has tried it, one can never know for sure if it isn't for oneself.

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 Post subject: Re: The Anatomy of a Story
PostPosted: Tue Mar 04, 2008 10:04 pm 
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Grettir wrote:
higgins wrote:
Just imagine if they would meet with at least some regularity and now picture the satisfied look on the first PC's face when he finally figures it out: "It's the ring he wants! It's the damn ring!"

Could you please clarify: Do you really mean PC, or do you mean the player? Because the look on the face of the PC would be the same wether the player had this knowledge before or not.

Do we play to entertain ourselves or our characters? ;)

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 Post subject: Re: The Anatomy of a Story
PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2008 6:05 am 
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Grettir, I'm glad you brought this up. I have never played this way, but it appeals to me more and more. When characters have secrets, it places more of a burden on the GM and only hinders the players' abilities to help create the kind of story they want to tell. Sometimes I end up feeling like I'm muddling around in the dark, trying to follow the GM's clues, rather than actually telling a story.

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 Post subject: Re: The Anatomy of a Story
PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2008 7:48 am 
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higgins wrote:
Do we play to entertain ourselves or our characters? ;)


Who is entertained more – the playwright creating characters and using them to tell the story he wants, or the actor immersing himself in these characters and interpreting them?

Obviously, it is a matter of taste. If your priority is immersing yourself in your character and an alien world, if it is exploring both your character and his world, you will certainly have a worse play experience by playing my way; you already know much from the beginning, and there will be less moments of stupefaction due to discovery.
But if your priority is creating a gripping story with maybe even some deeper meaning, I guarantee you that the way of gaming described by me will yield much better results. The increased player knowledge allows for increased player input and control over the story. Like Daeruin said about conventional play:

Daeruin wrote:
Sometimes I end up feeling like I'm muddling around in the dark, trying to follow the GM's clues, rather than actually telling a story.


Daeruin wrote:
Grettir, I'm glad you brought this up. I have never played this way, but it appeals to me more and more.


If you feel like giving it a try, I do very strongly advise you to talk with your players before, so that everybody is clear as to how the game is played.
For an initial game, I also advise choosing some background the story conventions of which are both clearly defined and well known to all. The film-noir setting from the game I described would be an such an example, as would be Sword&Sorcery à la Conan, or superhero tales à la Spiderman. If you choose a well-defined genre, you make sure that everybody knows in broad terms what the story will be like. This will set the frame for the shared creation, which could easily be lacking in a genereic fantasy setting.

Create at least the character concepts communally, openly, in a kind of shared brainstorming. Everybody is strongly encouraged to make suggestions for anybody else’s character; these suggestions may be ignored, but players should be well advised or even required to drop anything from their concept that faces stiff opposition by his fellow gamers. Apart from faciliating story creation, this has in my expereince two additional advantages:

1) The players’ interest in the other players’ characters is increased. And players like it better watching characters in action who they have a personal interest in.

2) You usually arrive at better, more interesting characters. You present your half-baked character concept, and while you are fleshing it out in the open, others make suggestions and come up with ideas you wouldn’t have thought of yourself. Usually, there are one or two twists to these ideas that greatly increase your character’s niftiness. And those you don’t like, you don’t have to use.

Also, make it clear to the players that e technique known as “retroactively motivating” is necessary for the characters to act according to their personalities and not become wooden, twodimensional tools of story creation. This is merely a tall word for “don’t have your character act in absurd ways just because you want to tell a story”, and I’m going to explain it right away.

Scenes in role-playing go like this: Referee presents motivating circumstances – player has character react to the motivation – character and player arrive at some increased knowledge.
Now, if the player does already possess this knowledge, the referee does not need to manufacture motivating circumstances – the player can have his character act in a way that will lead to the character arriving at the knowledge the player already has. But if the character is to be more than a wooden puppet, the player has to provide some reason for the character to act in this particular way – he has to motivate the character retroactively.

To return to the Bilbo-Gollum scene. Let’s say Bilbo’s player, knowing fully well that Gollum is nuts for the Ring, wants to let Gollum know that Bilbo has go it, a conscious choice to move the story into a desired direction. The player now looks for a plausible way that is in character for Bilbo to do this, and thinks about making the Ring part of the riddling contest. He has motivated Bilbo retroactively.

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 Post subject: Re: The Anatomy of a Story
PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2008 8:53 am 
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Grettir wrote:
But if your priority is creating a gripping story with maybe even some deeper meaning...


This is the priority of play for any Narrativist game.

Grettir wrote:
...I guarantee you that the way of gaming described by me will yield much better results...


IMO the conclusion doesn't directly follow the premise. There are many ways of gaming and even more ways that people play. Some would hate shared authorship -- it's too much responsibility, it changes gaming from fun to chore for them. Some referees will hate it -- what am I supposed to be doing if you guys are creating all the plots and rolling all the dice? If your referee is a better story-teller than even most of the players then the game will suffer as silly plots are introduced that the referee has no control over. IMO collaborative story-telling is as likely to produce boredom or even dysfunction as any other approach -- it will always depend on your gaming group and the individual's priority of play.

Rather than trying this with your TRoS group I advocate trying it with the game Universalis first.

If you try this with an established gaming group you will get players who will say "Sorry, but this isn't what I want from TRoS." They already have an established opinion of what the game is -- and they obviously like it the way it is being played because they keep coming back. So get yourself a copy of Universalis and ask the group if they'll try this new game as a one off session. By the end of the session they'll have a reasonable appreciation for the shared authorship concept -- and you'll know whether it's something they might want to do within the TRoS framework. If they do, go for it. If they don't, don't force it on them.

Daeruin wrote:
Sometimes I end up feeling like I'm muddling around in the dark, trying to follow the GM's clues, rather than actually telling a story.


You feel that you as the player should be telling a story? Or that you through your character should be initiating aspects of a story?

Traditional RPG scenarios are passive, with the PCs reacting to events initiated and controlled by NPCs. Is this what you are commenting on, that you referee uses this approach to creating scenario material?

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 Post subject: Re: The Anatomy of a Story
PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2008 9:26 am 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
Grettir wrote:
But if your priority is creating a gripping story with maybe even some deeper meaning...


This is the priority of play for any Narrativist game.

Grettir wrote:
...I guarantee you that the way of gaming described by me will yield much better results...


IMO the conclusion doesn't directly follow the premise. There are many ways of gaming and even more ways that people play.


That’s why I included the „if“-clause. And my “you” was a plural one – “you and the people you play with”. And in my experience – not just opinion – the conclusion I gave does follow the premise, provided the “if” is realized. If it isn’t, if you and the people you play with are not first and foremost interested in shared story creation, than of course the result doesn’t follow.

Ian.Plumb wrote:
IMO collaborative story-telling is as likely to produce boredom or even dysfunction as any other approach -- it will always depend on your gaming group and the individual's priority of play.


True of any priority that is incompatible with your group’s, and not a problem of the priority itself, but of your compatibility with your current group.

Ian.Plumb wrote:
Daeruin wrote:
Sometimes I end up feeling like I'm muddling around in the dark, trying to follow the GM's clues, rather than actually telling a story.


You feel that you as the player should be telling a story? Or that you through your character should be initiating aspects of a story?


IMO, stating the question in that way is too simple. To me, the problem presents itself thus:

We all want to tell and experience good stories. But good stories don’t tell themselves; if they did, there weren’t so many bad ones around. So some kind of ordering, orchestrating hand is obviously necessary. This precise orchestration of events can easily be done by a writer, but it is less simple in role-playing. Here, orchestration by the referee equals railroading of the players, even if the players are telling the referee in which direction they would like to be railroaded – which is how I perceive your “initiating aspects of the story”. And the more orchestration, the less the freedom of the players. The more freedom of the players, the less likely is a good story, as these do not simply result from interesting characters acting in a believable way; this is too random.

A workable solution to this dilemma is spreading the responsibility of orchestration among all participants - collaborative story-telling. But this requires knowledge, as nobody can arrange what he does not know. On the downside, this knowledge does of course detract from the illusion, there’s no way around this. One simply does have to know to what degree one prioritizes immersive illusionism and story creation and arrive at a compromise between those two.

But to make this choice consciously, one has at first to be fully aware of it and its implications. And illustrating this option and making it conscious is why I realized that a short answer to Crow Caller’s remark would not do, and why I started this thread.

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 Post subject: Re: The Anatomy of a Story
PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2008 1:57 pm 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
If you try this with an established gaming group you will get players who will say "Sorry, but this isn't what I want from TRoS." They already have an established opinion of what the game is -- and they obviously like it the way it is being played because they keep coming back. So get yourself a copy of Universalis and ask the group if they'll try this new game as a one off session. By the end of the session they'll have a reasonable appreciation for the shared authorship concept -- and you'll know whether it's something they might want to do within the TRoS framework. If they do, go for it. If they don't, don't force it on them.

From what I've heard from Universalis... Seconded! Group creation from the ground up, including fleshing out the setting, would be great for Grettir's purposes.

Grettir wrote:
higgins wrote:
Do we play to entertain ourselves or our characters? ;)

Who is entertained more – the playwright creating characters and using them to tell the story he wants, or the actor immersing himself in these characters and interpreting them?

While this is an excellent quiestion, I don't really see how it's relevant to roleplaying games where everybody creates characters (referee creates NPCs), every player directs their storyline to the way they want to and refreree helps to interwine them, everybody immerse (players considerably more of course) and there's no interpreting as everybody should know what their characters are all about anways.

Grettir wrote:
Obviously, it is a matter of taste. If your priority is immersing yourself in your character and an alien world, if it is exploring both your character and his world, you will certainly have a worse play experience by playing my way; you already know much from the beginning, and there will be less moments of stupefaction due to discovery.
But if your priority is creating a gripping story with maybe even some deeper meaning, I guarantee you that the way of gaming described by me will yield much better results. The increased player knowledge allows for increased player input and control over the story.

This naturally depends on what kind of stories one wants to tell. Sure, Hobbit definetly benefitted from the metagame information, but how would A Song of Ice and Fire improve if everybody were in on the Jon parentage? And I'm completely certain that the game experience would be ruined for everybody involved if Littlefingers real motives were public.

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 Post subject: Re: The Anatomy of a Story
PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2008 2:48 pm 
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higgins wrote:
From what I've heard from Universalis... Seconded! Group creation from the ground up, including fleshing out the setting, would be great for Grettir's purposes.


Yes, Universalis suits these goals perfectly. And Ian’s recommandation to try a new way of gaming first with a new game so as to avoid falling back into old habits is seconded as well. It is perfectly possible to play TRoS in the way I have described, but to introduce players already used to TRoS to it, Ian’s advice to use another game is very sound one. If one wishes, one can come back to TRoS later.

higgins wrote:
Grettir wrote:
Who is entertained more – the playwright creating characters and using them to tell the story he wants, or the actor immersing himself in these characters and interpreting them?

While this is an excellent quiestion, I don't really see how it's relevant to roleplaying games…


You don’t? Really? Don’t you see the close analogy between role-players and actors with added increased say over the play they are acting in? And the analogy of the referee’s job to playwriting and directing?

I feel that the latter is out of the question. If the referee has decided upon any further scenes apart from the opening one, even in vague outline – and what referee doesn’t? – it is clear that he is plotting and thus authoring the story much more than the players are. If you don’t belive this, just ask a player and a referee to give you a broad outline of an adventure – before it has started at all.

Good stories do not arise simply by having believable, threedimensional, well-rounded and maybe even memorable characters (both PCs and NPCs) interact. If they did, no writer in the world would ever have problems writing his novel/play/movie once he had created the characters, no writer would ever get stuck in telling his story. As I have stated above, some kind of orchestrating hand is necessary. The less orchestration, the more random and thus unlikely does the arising of a story with depth become; but the more orchestration, the les the freedom of characters of the story.

At the end of this spectrum sits writing fiction, or plays. Here, everything is orchestrated, leaving next to no room for the actors, apart from how they are going to present their characters. Traditional role-playing goes one step better. Here, the players take on part of the author’s responsibility, namely creating a character and representing him, but the main orchestration and thus authorial work lies still with the referee. Therefore, I consider players similar (not identical) to actors, and referees to authors.

higgins wrote:
Hobbit definetly benefitted from the metagame information, but how would A Song of Ice and Fire improve if everybody were in on the Jon parentage? And I'm completely certain that the game experience would be ruined for everybody involved if Littlefingers real motives were public.


Sorry I can’t comment at all on modern fantasy literature, I have given up on it completely. While I have heard of Martin’s books, I have not read them and thus can’t address your question in detail; maybe you could rephrase it with examples from well-known classics of fantasy (Tolkien, Howard, Moorcock, etc.), or any other classic from world literature that is likely to be known by everybody. But generally speaking I can say that there are of course always situations that don’t profit from increased player knowledge, but that there are none where this knowledge detracts from the enjoyment, provided that illusionism isn’t your priority.

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 Post subject: Re: The Anatomy of a Story
PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2008 3:52 pm 
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Grettir wrote:
higgins wrote:
Grettir wrote:
Who is entertained more – the playwright creating characters and using them to tell the story he wants, or the actor immersing himself in these characters and interpreting them?

While this is an excellent quiestion, I don't really see how it's relevant to roleplaying games…

You don’t? Really?

Not in the way you put in that very sentence. Pregenerated characters' case aside, the referee isn't creating the characters for the players and he's certaintly not putting words in their mouths, thus the player doesn't have to interpretate anything as he/she is the creator.

Grettir wrote:
higgins wrote:
Hobbit definetly benefitted from the metagame information, but how would A Song of Ice and Fire improve if everybody were in on the Jon parentage? And I'm completely certain that the game experience would be ruined for everybody involved if Littlefingers real motives were public.

Sorry I can’t comment at all on modern fantasy literature, I have given up on it completely. While I have heard of Martin’s books, I have not read them and thus can’t address your question in detail; maybe you could rephrase it with examples from well-known classics of fantasy (Tolkien, Howard, Moorcock, etc.), or any other classic from world literature that is likely to be known by everybody.

Well, the problem is, I don't know any analogy... The closest resemblance in writing style that I can draw is Maurice Druon's The Accursed Kings, but I'm not very far into The Iron King yet. Basically the story is told from a dozen (or so) different viewpoints. Main characters don't interact too often, as each has one's own goals they tend to be in different places. It was very deja vu to read the book as, the scope and detail of Martins work aside, it was so hauntingly familiar to our gaming style that I'm convinced that Martin has based the novels on a game of his (yes, he's a roleplayer too). :)

If you happened to see Heroes from television, that had an analogical structure too, though I think I cannot fix an example from that -- intrigues just weren't available there.

Added:
Grettir wrote:
At the end of this spectrum sits writing fiction, or plays. Here, everything is orchestrated, leaving next to no room for the actors, apart from how they are going to present their characters. Traditional role-playing goes one step better. Here, the players take on part of the author’s responsibility, namely creating a character and representing him, but the main orchestration and thus authorial work lies still with the referee. Therefore, I consider players similar (not identical) to actors, and referees to authors.

Unless the characters meet, I deal with each player individually. Since I'm not overwhelming them on my part, our conribution is more or less equal. In the amount of dialogue, yes, I contribute more than any of them individually, but that's invevitable -- someone has to reflect the world. And the world is bigger than any of them. I'm not sure how to count initiated scenes and plotlines, but I feel I'm in minority there compared to sum of my players. It's the character's actions that drive the plot after all.

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